Have You Modernized Today?

Have you swapped out some old incandescent light bulbs for the newfangled LED lights lately? How about upgraded some software? Switched to online billing?
If you don’t keep up, light bulb by light bulb, technology can leave you behind.
How far behind? According to the National Research Council’s draft report, “National Weather Service Modernization and Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment,” very far, necessitating an infusion of $4.5 billion from 1989-2000 involving not just new radars, supercomputers, models, data distribution and integration systems, and satellites, but also wholesale movement of offices, shifting of responsibilities. They conclude,

If a science-based agency like the National Weather Service, which provides critical services to the Nation, waits until it is close to becoming obsolete, it will require a complex and very costly program to modernize.

Lesson learned. The new report, which will be the subject of a Town Hall Meeting in New Orleans (Tuesday, 24 January, 6-7 p.m.), issues many compliments to the NWS for the effect of a well planned modernization:

  • more uniform radar coverage and surface observations across the United States and resulting improvements in handling severe weather.
  • greatly improved communication and dissemination of weather information
  • more evenly-distributed, uniform weather services to the nation.
  • strengthened relationships with community partners, leveraging benefits of modernization.

The report contains much wisdom about how to upgrade and stay on top of the waves of innovation that continually stretch–and thrill–people who work in this field. It notes the need for keeping good statistics of performance to help argue for, and evaluate, modernization. A common theme of recommendations is also the need for better systems engineering–having the expertise, and using early and continually throughout the modernization process is essential. The report also doesn’t neglect the human factor: scientific organizations need dedicated leaders who can see through the modernization process, and as a whole NWS has benefitted now that it has a culture, and a framework, of continual modernization.
There are also pitfalls to expect: the reduced agency workforce was balanced by increased technological costs–agency cost savings were minimal at best. external oversight ensured valuable accountability. Budget overruns and delays were common, some stemming from lack of initial analysis.
While you’re mulling over how this might help you stay up on your career and upgrade your household and office–call it personal modernization, the recommendations of the report are an undercurrent of many sessions at the AMS Annual Meeting, where so much attention is paid to technology. A number of presentations are focusing, for instance, on the AWIPS II and Dual-Pol Radar upgrades in the NWS. But also, for example, Marie-Francoise Voldrat-Martinez is presenting on what various upgrades to WMO and European hydromet and geospatial distribution systems will mean for MeteoFrance’s own information systems modernization (Monday, 1:30 p.m., Room 356).
You can be sure the developing world is listening. Vladimir Tsirkunov, of The World Bank, will be presenting Monday (11:45 a.m., Room 333) on the growing need for better hydrometeorological services internationally. The World Bank is putting money into modernization of national hydrometeorological services. He warns that “capacity in many regions is not adequate and degraded in some countries during the last 15-20 years.”
Sounds familiar. On a less extreme level, there was a time, before 1989, before those $4.5 billion, before a whole new culture, and a whole bunch of new equipment and systems, when people were worrying about similar issues in the United States. No jokes, please, about how many meteorologists and dollars it takes to screw in a new lightbulb!